PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has named Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque as his new spokesman, signaling a more aggressive defense of the Chief Executive from the Palace briefing room.
Duterte himself made the announcement during Roque’s birthday celebration in Davao City on Friday night, October 27.
“Hindi na congressman, secretary na siya (He is no longer a congressman, he’s a secretary already),” Duterte said in his speech, referring to the combative former human rights lawyer and University of the Philippines law professor.
“To get the message clear, sabi ko (I said), Harry will fit the – kasi medyo malikot ang bunganga namin (because we speak in playful language),” the tough-talking President added.
Duterte said Roque would attend the Cabinet meeting after his trip to Japan next week.
“To make his entrance dramatic, he will be attending the first Cabinet meeting on Monday,” he said, referring to the next Cabinet meeting on November 6.
Roque, a House deputy minority leader, represented victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, the kin of Palawan-based environmental advocate and journalist Gerry Ortega who was gunned down in 2011, and the family of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, killed by a US Marine in 2014, among others.
It was not clear why Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella, an evangelical pastor, was replaced and if he would be given another post in government.
Journalist Ellen Tordesillas first reported that Abella would soon be replaced by Roque as Duterte’s spokesman.
Tordesillas said Duterte was unhappy with how Abella handled the media on the latest Social Weather Stations survey results that showed a double-digit decline in his satisfaction and trust ratings as well as Duterte’s order to expel the ambassadors of European countries, which was later taken back.
Roque’s appointment papers have yet to be released. He will be traveling to Japan as a member of the President’s delegation and as a lawmaker.
Duterte will fly to Japan for a working visit from October 29 to 31 and is set to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss critical issues, including tensions at the Korean peninsula.
China Jocson, Abella’s assistant, said earlier that her boss had yet to leave his post, amid rumors of his replacement.
“As of this moment, he is still Presidential spokesperson and since he is in town, we may… you may hear from him next week. He may still give briefings if he is in town. If he doesn’t push through with the trip, he may still give briefings next week,” Jocson said during Friday’s news briefing.
On June 13, 2016, Duterte appointed Abella as one of his “designated spokespersons,” along lawyer Salvador Panelo.
A few days later, Panelo was named as the President’s chief legal counsel and Abella took on the role of being Duterte’s sole mouthpiece.
Human rights to be tackled
Roque on Saturday said he accepted the position to be able to address human rights issues surrounding the Duterte government.
“After much deliberation and careful consideration, I have decided to accept the President’s offer to be his spokesperson, as was announced by the President himself [Friday] night,” Roque said in a statement.
“I considered the position with the specific purpose of getting an audience with the President to address key human rights issues in the Philippines. As a member of Congress, my voice is limited. Politicians who relentlessly criticize the administration are simply ignored and labeled as ‘destabilizers.’ By taking this position, I hope to be able to advise the President directly regarding the manner and methods he has used to tackle the problem of drugs. I have already expressed my willingness to serve as an adviser on the matter,” he said.
“I must also stress that my position on human rights has not changed. I am a firm advocate for the protection and preservation of fundamental human rights of all persons. My track record in legislation demonstrates this.
In particular, I have lobbied for universal health care, the protection of internally displaced persons, and the rights of journalists from extralegal violence, and I look forward to these bills being enacted into law,” he said in the same statement.
“By accepting this position, I am not condoning the violence surrounding the government’s anti-drug campaign, nor do I intend to further the same. Regardless of whether I am a member of Congress or of the President’s Cabinet, I continue to value the right to life and dignity of every person and do not support the arbitrary killing of any person by the State,” Roque said.
WITH REINA C. TOLENTINO